When Radiohead announced their world tour back in March, supply and demand was out of sync. The scramble for tickets to witness their return to the stage resulted in a buzz akin to when Prince was sporadically dropping gigs whenever the urge took him back in 2014. In the lead up to their three consecutive London dates at The Roundhouse, homemade signs had been erected and phone numbers pinned to underground stations. As we arrive at the first gig, the pavement is flooded with urgent fans negotiating with touts, to the backdrop of a queue that feels disproportionately large at 7pm. It’s evident from the offset that Radiohead still make people’s cogs turn unlike any other band.
Holly Herndon as warm-up choice is typical form for Radiohead. With a vision and sound that’s adventurous, hyper-emotional and progressive, it’s easy to see why Yorke is an avid fan. When the band do emerge, the only certainty is that they’ll play new material – Radiohead remain one of the few bands whose setlist is continually amorphous. They also remain one of the few bands who could play 80 per cent of the music from all of their albums and still retain fandom in the live arena without people screeching for the hits (apart from the chap screaming Fake Plastic Trees next to us, who didn’t get his wish). This allows Radiohead a freedom that no other band could grasp.
Tonight that creative licence is exercised with gusto. In a setting of incredible intimacy for a band of this size, eight albums are explored with wild abandon. The opening medley of new material sounds solid, climaxing with Ful Stop, which should rightly take its place in their live favourites, as its malevolent build provides the first of many gut moving moments. It’s also the first time the dual drumming of Phil Selway and Clive Deamer is fully realised, with Thom repeatedly pushing the line “truth will mess you up”. It’s a subtle snarler of a tune and the standout on the new album. We’ve analysed the subtleties on A Moon Shaped Pool to death but it’s seeing the full band produce them in the live arena that makes us fully realise the group effort that goes into crafting even some of their most personal, fragile material.
Tonight’s brilliance lies in the contrast between Radiohead’s most abrasive and most beautiful material. My Iron Lung is predictably gnarling. Myxomatosis, arguably one of their most underrated tracks, sees Yorke maraud the stage asking the audience, “Why do I feel so tongue tied?” in-between its crushing sonics. The re-imagining of Idioteque is predictably compelling and remains the pinnacle of their powers for many. 2+2=5 sees a mosh-pit break out. Planet Telex is unexpected but very welcome.
Talk Show Host is another welcome surprise early in the set and clearly still retains great affection among Radiohead fans. Its distinctive intro lays the pace for a tune that doesn’t feel dated in the slightest. Separator, Reckoner and Exit Music (For a Film) are all very moving and each track is observed with reverence from a respectful crowd. Considering a number of these tickets were sold to fans in a pre-sale, it’s the quiet-when-necessary atmosphere that makes the show work.
Yorke is on jovial form tonight, even when a wrong synth-setting means Jonny blunders Nude. “You’re not going anywhere are you?” he jokes. Dressed in black and as relaxed as I’ve ever seen him, Yorke moves with typically energetic wiggles and contortions around the stage and sings with heart wrenching force when required. He’s as convincing as ever. “We’re going to play a new one now as it was all getting a bit hit parade there,” he says when the band emerge for the second encore, playing Present Tense. You get the feeling that the band are revelling in the intimacy of playing a venue of this size. Communication feels easier here.
Second encore closer Paranoid Android feels utterly joyous, two and a half hours after they started. After a satisfyingly unpredictable and sprawling journey through the dark corners and brightest highs of their discography, we have no doubt they will provide a completely different experience for those lucky enough to get a glimpse.
01. Burn the Witch(Extended intro)
03. Decks Dark
04. Desert Island Disk
05. Ful Stop
06. Lotus Flower
07. Talk Show Host
08. My Iron Lung
09. The Gloaming
10. Exit Music (for a Film)
13. The Numbers
17. Everything in Its Right Place
18. Morning Mr. Magpie
19. 2 + 2 = 5
21. Planet Telex
22. There There
23. Present Tense
24. You and Whose Army?
25. Paranoid Android